As we continue to move further and further into the 21st century, it is quickly becoming apparent that as a species, our relationship with technology is only going to increase. However, as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous and commonplace, so too do the consequences of its ongoing usage. For better or worse, technology and the side-effects that accompany it are here to stay. So, if you want to learn how to overcome the the ravages of screen addiction, read on.
Addicted to Screen Time
Recent studies and surveys have shown that, between video games, television, and the internet, the typical American child spends an average of seven hours per day at an electronic screen! While at first this figure may come as a bit of a shock, it isn’t that surprising when you consider that this is overwhelmingly true for many adults these days as well. But once you have accepted the fact that we all have begun to spend ever increasing amounts of time tethered to our various electronic devices, the question becomes, what are the physical and mental effects of this socially systemic extended screen exposure? The answer may not actually be as clear cut as one would imagine, as there are several factors that come into play when considering how digital media affects the brain.
Children who are said to exhibit screen addiction are often described as moody, impulsive, and unable to pay attention. They are likely to suffer from sensory overload, hypersensitive nervous systems, and a lack of restorative RPM sleep. Spending excessive amounts of time at a screen can also be physically detrimental, and can lead to poor posture and body language, skeletal misalignment, and muscle and tendon related health issues.
Electronic Screen Syndrome
Together these factors can greatly exacerbate the difficulties and symptoms of other per-existing learning disabilities, and have recently been categorized as a new disorder under the banner of Electronic Screen Syndrome or ESS. Being a rather new disorder, diagnoses and definitions for ESS and its symptoms are still an ongoing work in progress. However, the following is a list of some general characterizations of that may help you identify this syndrome as a potential candidate for your child’s learning difficulties.
- The child displays symptoms related to anxiety, behavior, cognition, mood, or social interactions that cause significant difficulties in social situations such as at school, home, or in public places. Typical signs of ESS may include severe irritability, depression, over the top and violent tantrums, becoming easily frustrated, low self-discipline, extreme disorganization, excessive obstinance, social immaturity, inability to maintain eye contact, insomnia and other sleep disorders, presence of various learning difficulties, and poor short-term memory.
- Symptoms have been improve with the removal of electronic media from the affected person’s daily routine. In many instances, removing electronic media from sensory input for up to three to four weeks has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of ESS, however, in some severe cases, longer absences may be necessary.
- Despite the promising nature of these breaks from electronic media, a number of different factors will be the ultimate determinate of whether a child will benefit from this treatment in the long run. While some children are able to resume normal use of electronic devices in moderation after an absence, others tend to relapse immediately if re-introduced to the screen.
- Demographics that are particularly susceptible to ESS include but are not limited to: young males, especially those with ADHD and/or autsim spectrum disorders, millennials or digital natives that have experienced lifelong exposure to electronic media, and those with pre-existing psychiatric, neurological, learning, or behavioral disorders.
- Anyone can experience ESS regardless of other psychological, neurological, behavioral or learning disorders and disabilities. It can also mimic or exacerbate almost any other mental-health related disorder, making it rather hard to pin down and diagnose.
Pros and Cons of Video Games
In the midst of this discussion is the underlying reality that video games take up a sizable portion of the time that we spend in front of screens, especially for those previously mentioned vulnerable demographics such as young adolescent boys. While it has been shown that excessive screen time can be developmentally detrimental for children, and down right unhealthy for adults, this isn’t to say that there are absolutely no psychological benefits associated with the use of electronic media, and for video games in particular.
Studies have shown that video games can help a person develop stronger spacial reasoning skills, gain greater ability to think outside the box, and greatly improve their hand eye coordination. Therefore, it is important to first consider the pros and cons of video game exposure before writing them off as either severely unhealthy, or completely benign and harmless.
Video Game Play Pros:
- Improves hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and reflexes
- Helps develop fine motor skills
- Promotes problem solving and logical thinking
- Offers an engaging way to relax
- Can improve communication, teamwork, and cooperation skills (Multiplayer games)
- Helps players think in new ways and can improve creativity
Video Game Play Cons:
- Can lead to screen addiction
- Creates escapes or excuses not to deal with problems in the real world
- Can promote violence
- Leads to a lack of physical activity
- Isolates people and can be socially detrimental
- Usually leads to poor health decisions
Screen Time Management Recommendations
So in light of all this information surrounding the increased use of technology within our society, it is more important than ever to adopt strategies and habits to combat the negative effects of screen addiction. If you or a loved one are currently suffering from Electronic Screen Syndrome or other digital media related disorders, try the following recommendations for some much needed relief.
- Enough is Enough – Limit number of hours of screen time per day to avoid addiction and negative side effects
- Sleep Mode – Limit screen usage before bed to promote a full, restful, and restorative night sleep
- Get Out and Play – Encourage and participate in regular physical activity and exercise to avoid spending hours at a time in front of the screen
- Find the Good Ones – When allowing screen time, promote the use and play of games that help develop motor-skills, critical thinking, and spacial awareness.
- The Last Straw – If nothing else seems to work, or if the severity of the condition seems to be worsening, it may be beneficial to try completely removing the use of electronic devices for a few weeks if need be.